Reviews of two masterful exhibitions at Greg Kucera Gallery: Mark Calderon’s “Show of Hands” and Jeffrey Simmons’ “Open Work: Recent Watercolors.”
To call Seattle artist Mark Calderon a “sculptor” doesn’t quite cover it. His pieces can be in two as well as three dimensions. While he sometimes works in cast bronze and cast lead, he also puts mica, industrial felt, electrical tape and other unexpected materials to novel use. He maintains a stellar level of craft in all these media, and his work is further unified by the marked conceptual twists he brings to it.
His new exhibit at Greg Kucera Gallery, “Show of Hands,” is Calderon at his best.
The show’s name stems from his “Manus” series: six stylized mica outlines of hands in action, with which Calderon evokes a startling range of mindsets and moods. In “Manus (Protective),” for example, two disembodied hands seem to shelter the air between them. In “Manus (Crossed),” the hands ward off some threat approaching them. The brittle mica — sometimes beige, sometimes brownish — suggests skin tones without concealing its mineral nature. Hung on the wall unframed, each piece boasts a shorthand efficiency in the complexities it addresses.
Mark Calderon: ‘Show of Hands,’ Jeffrey Simmons’ ‘Open Work: Recent Watercolors’
10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Dec. 23, Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Ave. S., Seattle; (206-624-0770 or gregkucera.com).
Hands — specifically, hands in boxing gloves — figure prominently in other wall-mounted pieces, too. Two life-size silhouettes cut from dyed industrial felt depict a Muhammad Ali-like boxer in action, his hands raised in triumph in “Fighter (Orange),” his body slumped in defeat in “Fighter (Blue).”
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Another hands-raised image of the same figure, crafted from gilded bronze and polycarbonate, is untitled. The gleam of the gilding lends it opulence, while the glossy surface of polycarbonate is a murky mirror in which you can barely see a shadow of yourself.
Two more traditional cast-bronze pieces are also highlights. “Gamble” precariously stacks bowls, pitchers and a pie tin 3 feet high. “Apology” is a gorgeous miniature of a human figure bowing to the ground, its flattened face flush with the surface supporting it. Again and again, Calderon seems triggered by a potent idea, then draws on his unusual range of techniques to realize it.
Technical mastery is on glorious display, too, in Jeffrey Simmons’ “Open Work: Recent Watercolors.” In reproduction, these pieces look exquisite. But photographs give you no idea of what’s actually going on in some of them. His two paper-with-holes-and-watercolor series, “Larger Light Trap” (three pieces) and “Fire Serif” (five pieces), for instance, are both experiments in perception of light and color. Look at them closely, and it’s nearly impossible to tell where the color in them emanates from.
The trick: Simmons layers one piece of white paper over another in each work. The outward piece, warped to create a small space between outer and inner paper layers, is punched with holes in lace-fine patterns. The watercolors are applied on the inner side of the hole-punched paper. The light that the holes let in diffuses those colors onto the white base layer of paper underneath. It also makes the unpainted outer surface of the hole-punched paper seem to glow in pastel hues. Each “Larger Light Trap” piece explores amorphous-blob possibilities; each “Fire Serif” is a variation on a Rorschach test.
Simmons’ other watercolors, even if they’re punched with small diamond/triangle-shaped cutouts in the paper surface, play with color and pattern a more direct manner. Two large works, “Strength of Strings” and “Mirror Rim,” are especially impressive as they tease the eye with symmetrical possibilities without quite succumbing to them.
“Open Work” is rigorous visual music at its finest.